Photos: Straight Up
Oh Satan! Mephisto! Judas! Oh Benaiah! Oh evil eyes that glint beneath the blades! Yes, I am breaking out my “intellectual self” here by straight-up plagiarizing Kerouac. Be that evil in itself as may, the point is that we all have known, experienced and lived the evils of shaving, waxing, tweezing, lasering, Veet-ing; you name it, we’ve rolled with it.
Plus, whether you find them prickly or sexy, evolution or fashion, hipster or happening; “the beard” is one undeniably polarizing topic. Controversial in China as well; on March 30, 2015, China Youth Daily reported how one Chinese man, with an Uyghur-sounding name, in separatism/struggle-tainted Xinjiang Province was jailed for six years on the charges of “provoking trouble, including the growing of a beard”. Aiyaaa.
胡须(huxu) and 胡子(huzi) are just a few Chinese terms covering ye ole “beards and/or moustaches”. In Confucius’ long-gone dandy days of the Qin Dynasty, featuring such male beauty triumphs as the goatee with shaved cheeks, the long beard was considered a sign of wisdom and knowledge (not much different form our Western depictions of Christ and Merlin eh). It was only after China’s Age of Humiliation (which roughly covers the 19th century — Opium Wars, y’all know the drill) that beards became irreparably associated with those non-Han (foreigners) entering the Middle Kingdom and doing as they pleased.
Fast forward to 2015, just flying through a few decades of Chinese republicanism, despotism, blatant oppression, opening up, modernizing and capitalizing, and the beard, as well as the male “poodling” that comes with it, is back — with a vengeance (yep, I went there). And this time it has a personal manual. Enter Shanghai-resident Michael Gora, a German engineer who found himself spellbound by the concept of vintage straight razors and, more markedly so, their restoration to new health. With a penchant for sustainable articles and prone to slow down the pace in this consumerist hamster wheel we all live in, Gora created the “Straight Up” razor brand: simple, sleek and sustainable. Ahso, jetzt geht’s los (yep, went there again).
1. Razors are “niche”, to say the least. Who, what, why?
Gora: “I’m just a guy who enjoys the China dynamic, but despite my love for the latest tech gadgets, I do believe in the sustaining of certain “values”. We consume phones, tablets, movies, anything really, like chocolate nowadays and it’s just nice to own certain things (a watch, a straight razor) that you will hold dear for life. I restore vintage razors, mostly European, and in their restoration process, I find a particular peace and quiet which I very much enjoy. Plus, I’ve always had a thing for sustainable/ handmade articles.”
2. When did you get your first shave? Smooth or cut-galore?
Gora: “For any young guy, that transition from that light stubble to a beard is always a somewhat strange and “bumpy” one. You secretly take your dad’s razor, unfortunately in my case that was an electric one [which makes the hairs grow back softer], then finally I got my own “knife”. Trial and error, shall we say. In more than one way. The first time I used a STRAIGHT razor, however, wasn’t too long ago. The main difference was that this particular one was old and used and had been restored by me personally. It took QUITE the preparation, long live those Youtube tutorials, but it’s all about that process:
Men have been using knives to trim and tame their facial hair for centuries now, Gillette has only been around for a few decades, so you feel like you’re (in a sense) going back to your male roots. You do get a sense of achievement upon finishing that shave, I must admit.”
[My lovely dearies out there, before the feminists start meowing, please take my word for it when I say that Gora did NOT put this in a mucho macho way.]
3. Today, old-school tailoring and grooming have made a massive comeback, a throwback to the real-life Mad Men era so to speak. How does this “retro-style” affect men’s grooming?
Gora: “We live in dynamic times. Simple as that. This means that we often seek fast fixes, but on the other hand still want to live that ‘good life’ which, for me personally, often includes an organic, natural lifestyle. This so-called natural style basically means you have to take a step back from your industrial, consumerist ways. Hence the whole retro-trend too can be seen in this light; just taking a step back, doing it old-school, ‘reclaiming’ [in the shaving arena] those often long-lost manly ways. By ‘manly’, I do not mean beer, football and women, but taking the time to do something you value. Getting a well-tailored suit, made to fit your body, is another example here. A good shave isn’t about the latest Gillette Mach3, but about you being present in the moment and, naturally, the quality of the knife.”
4. How’s Straight Up been received thus far?
Gora: “Selling a straight razor is not the same as selling a fridge. You need that cut fine [pun intended] interest. Some people you meet (for example at vintage fairs) have always wanted to try it, others collect them, hence the reaction varies from ‘cool, very interesting/special’ to ‘beautiful, looks valuable’. [Pretty sure the women comment more on the sleek shine of the razors or their meticulously polished bamboo handles than the men do, I know I did.] There’s a market for them; it may be niche, but it’s there!”
5. Any shaving tips? (Take note, my ladies! Our legs, et al., might benefit from this as well.)
Gora: “Well, my best shave ever was the one I had in India in 2007. That was my VERY first straight razor shave — at this small street side barbershop. Prep, prep, prep; it’s all about the beard preparation. The more water is used (hence the post-shower hot towel method), the softer it is and the smoother the shave. And proper shaving cream is a MUST. My wife is experimenting with her own concoctions in this area so please buy the cream from her hehe.” [Quite the cutting-edge team, those two.]
Confucius (551-479 BC) once said, “The human body is a gift from one’s parents to which no alterations should be made, including anything from trimming the bodily hair to cutting one’s nails to getting tattoos.” Hmm. I obviously slightly paraphrased the good sage here, but his idea was clear-cut. My dearest men, small piece of advice from yours truly :
Do keep trimming. Take that however you like.
Do check out Gora’s interview with “ethical Vogue” eco-beacon SIX Magazine.